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  • Digitale Integration von Migranten? Ethnographische Fallstudien zur digitalen Spaltung in Deutschland by Oliver Hinkelbein
  • Paul A. Youngman
Digitale Integration von Migranten? Ethnographische Fallstudien zur digitalen Spaltung in Deutschland. By Oliver Hinkelbein. Bielefeld: transcript, 2014. Pp. 328. Paper €34.99. ISBN 978-3837628371.

Oliver Hinkelbein’s stated goal in Digitale Integration von Migranten is to open what he terms the “black box” of the digital divide that exists in Germany between home country nationals and recent migrants. His focus is therefore on the development and implementation of strategies designed to alleviate the divide and digitally integrate the targeted, disadvantaged populations. By digital integration, Hinkelbein means the development of sociocultural capabilities and media competencies necessary for an individual to be an engaged citizen. But of course he also understands that his conception of integration is an ideal. For many politicians, for example, there is a good deal of self-interest involved. Such integration strategies are simply economic development tactics for elected officials under pressure to constantly improve Germany’s economic outlook. Either way, Hinkelbein effectively argues for the importance of overcoming the gap in technological competence and access, and he sets out to analyze—through three case studies—the theoretical foundation, structure, and effectiveness of strategies aimed at bridging the gap.

Hinkelbein spends fully half of his work on theory and methodology. He introduces the reader to a dizzying array of philosophers and their ideas, and it is in this section that the text reads like a dissertation trying to cover all of its bases. Ranging from Friedrich Nietzsche to Umberto Eco to Michel Foucault to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, his theoretical discussions, while logical in their presentation, are more than the reader will eventually need when it comes to understanding the fine analysis of [End Page 209] his case studies. In the end, the reader only needs Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory from his “Dialogue on Actor Network Theory” (2004) as well as Delueze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome to understand Hinkelbein’s main point. That is, the strategies and organizations dedicated to the eradication of this particular digital divide are nonlinear, networked systems—like Actor-Network Theory—developed in such a way that it is difficult to differentiate between its complex root system—funding, funders, political support—and the actual surface organization, be it governmental or nongovernmental—like the rhizome concept. Hinkelbein follows the cumbersome theoretical section with a much more concise discussion of his ethnographic approach. He identifies both the advantages and disadvantages of his “learning-by-doing” approach. At times, he struggled with neutrality because he was seen not only as an objective researcher but also an expert in digital integration. It seemed, especially in his experiences in Esslingen and Hannover, difficult not to get pulled into the day-to-day operations of the organizations he was studying.

Finally, Hinkelbein introduces the reader to his three case studies. First, he highlights the role of think tanks in the “black box” of digital integration. Think tanks—like the Institut für Informationsmanagement (Institute for Information Management) at the University of Bremen and the Stiftung Digitale Chancen (Foundation for Digital Opportunities)—are staffed by “new mediators.” These key actors serve as nodes in a dense network of other actors and localities; their purpose is to develop strategies. Beyond spending too much time clarifying the definition of a think tank, he makes the point that it is the job of these organizations to develop strategy, not to implement it. This limitation does not mean, however, that the role of the new mediators in think tanks is any less important, as they often do field work involved with implementation.

The last two case studies deal primarily with such implementation. He focuses on the work being done in Esslingen to bridge the technology gap. The computer courses and Internet meetups take place under the auspices of the local government. The key difference between Esslingen and Hannover, the final case study, is that, in Hannover, the strategic implementation is run by nongovernmental organizations, albeit with funding from the European Union. Both studies focus in great detail on the people involved because, beyond the machinery and beyond the...


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